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Reflections on the Maple Blues Awards

The Maple Blues Awards have been swimming upstream since they began in 1997, left in the wake of more popular forms of music with their higher profiles and bigger budgets. You don’t need to have the blues to get the blues – but it sure helps. 

Under the care and guidance of the Toronto Blues Society, the event struggles to decentralize its scope, striving to evolve into a national platform for recognizing and celebrating the best of Canada’s blues talent.

And celebrate it did with a sold-out ceremony at Toronto’s esteemed Koerner Hall. You might think this an odd venue for a category of music that has its roots in the muddy delta of the Mississippi and its branches in the more rustic bars and music halls across the country but, as it turns out, this venue is perfect.

Why? It succeeds in forcing the genre to raise the bar of its overall profile as it serves to frame its venerable celebrities and hybrid up-and-comers in a dressed-up setting that befits their tireless efforts to keep the music fresh and alive.

Recognition provides an essential shot-in-the-arm to a tribe of fun-loving players and dedicated practitioners who historically, for the most part, scrape by to make ends meet, if they don’t rely on day jobs altogether. It’s a sacrifice. Even our best prove that their passion provides the key incentive to playing — that, and the support of a loyal breed of music fan – because clearly nobody’s getting rich quick. Yet there can be no denying the magnetism between these musicians and the fans of their music, together with a mutual love of the category. And the love of a good night out for like-minded people makes the MBAs the perfect excuse.

You could easily argue that winning a Maple Blues Award doesn’t add much to one’s résumé any more than it does to one’s bank account. The same would be true of a Juno winner. It might help add meat to a marketing plan but success in the heart and soul of a Canadian blues artist is measured on a different scale than a financial report or a new Lexus. It’s the recognition that adds wind to their sails and it’s the enthusiastic support of fans who come back for more which spurs them forward. Even a nomination proves an endorsement of their efforts.

For the rest, there’s a new focal point to be measured against and a new blues standard to shoot for. And the entire process succeeds in its ability to simply make some noise and draw justifiable levels of attention to a genre which, by and large, remains true to itself and respectful of its heritage – but too often ignored by the mainstream press who may not quite understand it.

The year’s Maple Blues Awards – with winners nominated by accredited members of the blues community and voted on by a cross-section of blues fans – is an attempt to arrive at a representative, if not a balanced sampling of the entire country. Is it 100% fair? Is it 100% democratic? How could it be? There’s rarely a bulletproof process.

But are the Maple Blues Awards a bright light with regard to a population that prefers to steal its music than pay for it, in an economic climate which has reduced the numbers of viable live music venues as it has restricted the ability of most to get out and support live music? Are they a sign of hope for change and a prayer of sorts for better times? You’re darned right they are – and you can bet your hoochie coochie that the MBAs provide a worthy platform to celebrate the music, the musicians and the fans. It’s a wonderful tradition for all the right reasons.

By putting diverse musicians on stage together, by showcasing artists from all across Canada, and by delivering musical highlights across the board, the MBAs prove their worth. The icing on the cake is a band comprised of Canada’s absolute best musicians: The Maple Blues Revue.  That’s yet another way this special night underlines exactly how much talent we have to enjoy – from Victoria to Bonavista and all points in-between.

Congratulations to everyone who has a role in making this positive process come together and for all those who see the value in both the spirit of collaboration and the simple act of sharing with others. This event is all about pride, the passion, great performances and those people who dedicate their lives to making it all happen.

And, as the after-party (with no less than Curley Bridges providing the entertainment) proved, the camaraderie of this collective group is the best. Not only are the MBAs the place to be, they go a long way to reinforcing networks and building bonds that can last forever.

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1 comment

  1. avatar
    Dave Hoerl 27 January, 2011 at 12:20

    Good article and accurate summary of these awards. The TBA is really making an effort to get it right, and for that this west-coaster is thankful. Wish I could have been there this year.

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